Dead? How Dead?

Picture this: it’s 1965. The Daleks’ Masterplan Episode Four. Katarina has just fired herself out of an airlock to save the Doctor and Steven from the convicts of the conveniently named prison planet Desperus, to Steven’s considerable anguish. Unbeknownst to them, Katarina is scooped up by a passing galactic pleasure cruiser, where she gets a job doing manicures and facials on the Earth-Kembel run. Skip forward to 1982 and the closing moments of Earthshock. The freighter crashes into prehistoric Earth, disgorging Adric who, unlike the brilliant ‘Part Five’ on the DVD, isn’t eaten by a dinosaur, but instead survives to inspire Neolithic man to first pick up sharpened animal bones and use them as weapons.

Yes, Adric could return at any minute: a sobering thought.

Death in Doctor Who isn’t what it was, folks. Rather, death isn’t what it is. Those two moments from the show’s history are memorable for their impact because they were so unexpected. I remember asking my Dad whether Adric was dead or not. He told me that Adric was probably OK, ostensibly to avoid upsetting a five-year-old after a long day at work. His reappearance a story later, as an illusion, may have helped placate me. But dead he actually was, and that’s partly why the Cybermen are my favourite Who monsters.

Ingrid Oliver is set to return as UNIT scientist Osgood in Series 9, despite Missy having made good on her threat to kill her. The decision to kill off a popular character was a sadistic act that established Missy’s villain credentials, much in the way that the two acts of self-sacrifice helped establish poignant final acts of courage by the two companions mentioned. It’s what makes them memorable, especially Adrienne Hill as Katarina, for her four-episode stint as a companion fifty years ago. Some of the series’ finest stories have had an almost attritional body count, and the impact would undeniably be diminished if everybody involved got up afterwards, dusted themselves down and carried on with what they were doing.


In 1988, DC Comics took the controversial decision to poll Batman fans on whether they should kill off Jason Todd, the second Robin. Never a popular character, the answer came back a resounding ‘yes’ and in issue 428, Todd was beaten to a pulp by the Joker, tied to a pillar and blown up. Flash forward to 2002 and the Hush mini-series, and Batman’s tormentor is revealed to be none other than… Jason Todd, who has survived his seemingly terminal double whammy and is out to air his grievances. Things get patched up and Todd rejoins the Batman ‘family’ as Red Robin, a name which, in itself, would make you wish you’d stayed dead. In 2013, Grant Morrison killed off the latest Robin, Damian Wayne – but for how long?

I’m guessing that wasn’t the reaction DC were going for, but repeated exposure to the miraculous resurrection has robbed the ‘shock death’ of its power to, well, shock. It’s the same with Who: wonderful as many of the stories were, the number of times Rory ‘died’ in Series 5 got a bit wearing. He was becoming the series’ answer to Captain Scarlet (or Kenny from South Park). It’s a testament to the chemistry between Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan that they managed to eke sympathy from their audience on each occasion, but it was starting to pall by the time the Doctor rebooted the universe.

Rory Williams Impossible Astronaut

Death and renewal are, however, part and parcel of the show. In context, it’s what enables the series to keep going. Every Doctor ‘dies’ and is reborn. Likewise, the Master and Davros both manage to come back from seemingly insuperable odds (burning alive, exterminated by their own creations, being Eric Roberts) day in, day out. But they aren’t human characters. We accept it because experience has taught us that that’s what happens to Time Lords and/or mutant Kaled scientists. Our experience of people dying is different. We know they don’t come back and so, when the production team takes the decision to write a character out in so dramatic a fashion, you hope they’ll stick to their guns (or whatever they’re using) to give that character an impactful send-off that people will remember. Bringing them back dilutes that character’s credibility, no matter how popular (or not) he/she is or was.

Bringing popular characters back from the dead is nothing new: Sherlock Holmes and Dallas are proof of that. Sometimes, though, it’s more of a tribute to a character’s contribution to a series, either TV or comic, to let them rest in peace.

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  1. Quinton Kyle Hoover says:

    She’s obviously a Zygon.

    • Keir Hansen says:

      We just had this discussion over at GPR — even if Ingrid’s character turns out to be a Zygon, it’s a poor writing tactic to subject the audience to, when they’ve effectively reached a point of closure, and even had the showrunner himself explicitly state that Osgood’s death was, quite literally, a “necessary evil” to prove that Missy was a force to be reckoned with. Bringing back even the representation of her character takes the sting out of her loss, which has repercussions for what death really means (or as Nick correctly points out here, *doesn’t* mean) for the program.

      • Namnoot says:

        Unless my guess that this is Osgood from prior to her death proves correct. It would add to the sting because both Clara and the Doctor would know they were seeing a doomed woman whom they cannot warn nor save. And it would perfectly fit Moffat’s concept of time travel stories. We’ve seen him make the Doctor encounter himself, both within his current incarnation and by phoning ahead (twice if you assume he did so to bring Twelve into the Gallifrey Stands scenario). And Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS really messed with time. I may well be wrong as I’ve misguessed Moffat’s intentions before, but right now I’m going to stand by the idea that the Doctor and Clara and going to meet Osgood at some point before Missy killed her.

    • Dr. Moo says:

      Zygote’s need their victims to be still alive.

      • Random Comments says:

        It worked for Auntie Pat…

      • Namnoot says:

        Do we know that for certain? I recall when Elizabeth I was impersonating her Zygon imposter she told the Doctor that she’d killed the “real” Elizabeth and the Doctor went along with it. Unless they’d forgotten how a Zygon works.

        • McJohnson says:

          The Zygons have shape-shifting abilities, allowing them to replicate the appearance of another being, but they must keep the subject alive in order to use its body print.

          That’s from Wikipedia so make of it what you will.

        • Calli Arcale says:

          Yes, we know it for certain, but we also don’t know how long an impression lasts before it has to be refreshed — or how significant the degradation is over time. But it’s why I’m more inclined to think Zygon Osgood was offed, if this is indeed the route they end up going.

          Honestly, I’m liking the timey-wimey explanation more, as it has the potential for some serious heartache as well as toying with the ethics of time travel. What if Clara, emboldened by her success in getting the Doctor to save Gallifrey and alter his own timeline, attempts to alter Osgood’s timeline, with catastrophic results?

  2. Dr. Moo says:

    Saving the dead characters has made for some of Dr Who’s best moments: the endings to Forest of the Dead, The Dictor Dances and Last Christmas demonstrate this well. Incidentally all from Moffat. Hmm…

    If there’s a good reason within the story for their survival, as in these three examples, then let them live otherwise let the dead stay dead. Give us what we got with Peri in Trial part eight but not Trial part fourteen.

    • McJohnson says:

      Maybe they wanted to make Osgood marry Brian Blessed? He was originally in series nine but had to pull out…!

    • Doc7 says:

      The fake-out in Trial 14 still irritates me! And RTD did something similar. Remember when Rose said “this is how I died” before promptly not dying?

      • PhideauxXavier says:

        Trial 14 is so horrible. How could Peri possibly have survived the brain transplant? But, I love the Rose moment, because she “died” on the Earth she knew and loved. She lived on in that parallel universe, but she was still dead to the people who knew and loved her on our Earth.

        • Dr. Moo says:

          I think the thing with Peri was that her apparent death, as seen in part 8, was the Valeyard and Time Lords tampering with evidence to make the Doctor seem worthy of a guilty verdict. If they’d gone with that approach it would have still been annoying but having her marry Yrcanos is just ridiculous: Peri would never go for him! Totally out of character for her.

  3. Dr. Moo says:

    Error: Katarina was in five episodes, not four as the article states.

  4. Random Comments says:

    I thought the Jason Todd voting thing was rigged by one guy who voted a few hundred times, and that the tally was actually very close, and slightly in favor of him living.

    • Semi-Evil Semi-Genius says:

      I’ve heard the same. It would’ve be very easy to manipulate that poll given enough patience / lack of a social life.

  5. bar says:

    What’s being stretched here is the vital link between Doctor Who – a magical/fantasy/SF show – and our real lives. While the former reflected the latter enough we could believe they might interract, so we invest in it hugely. Once Who becomes too far removed from the real consequences of real danger and death it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant /unrelatable to our lives.
    Just another show? maybe not; but a possibility on the fringe of our own reality, no. not any longer. I’m not asking for it to be Cathy Come Home, but for heaven’s sake NOT disney eternal happy endings, please.

  6. TimeChaser says:

    There’s still the possibility that Missy’s “death ray” whatever it was wasn’t actually what it seemed to be. It seemed to me to possibly be like the Daleks’ transmats on the Game Station in Bad Wolf. People assumed contestants were being killed off, but of course they were just being sent elsewhere in a puff of smoke and a little leftover dust.

    • Dr. Moo says:

      I remember the moment in Death in Heaven where Danny somehow inexplicably sends that child back from the grave. It was never really explained properly. But we may be about to find out in series nine.

      • Semi-Evil Semi-Genius says:

        The power of sappy sentimentality and a lack of time to explain anything. Is anything in Death in Heaven explained? Cyber-Men working for Missy? The purpose of Dark Water? Cyber-Pollen? How the Master acquired so many dead people across time and space (did she only bother with humans)?

        • Dr. Moo says:

          For a show about time travel with an extended runtime and written by the genius behind time-wimey it’s amazing how badly Death in Heaven uses the time it has to tell the story. Yes there is a story in there, a good one at that, but it’s told quite badly.

          • Semi-Evil Semi-Genius says:

            I agree. There is some good potential there. But it’s buried beneath extraneous ideas. Dark Water looks cool, but why are the Cyber-Men displaying themselves at all, disguised or not? What is the point of drugging the Doctor or making him the ridiculous President of Earth? I don’t want to hate bash the story because it was intriguing at first. Okay, Missy has returned and has somehow subdued the Cyber-Men. Human consciousness can be perfectly adapted to a digital avatar. Let’s discuss those ideas in an episode. Black Mirror did the latter almost in an episode in which the dead were “resurrected” in synthetic bodies with personalities created from their remarks on social media and the like. I know Moffat wants to tease us with how Missy escaped the Time War, but some tidbits addressing that would be great. And we need to stop suping up Cyber-Men with new powers. Too much makes them unbeatable, so the resolution ends up depending on a deus ex machina. Cyber-Men are dangerous enough on their own merits. While I didn’t care for the potrayal of the Cyber-Doctor in Nightmare in Silver, I do like the idea of future Cyber-Men being able to convert more forms of life including Time Lords. To me, that’s a fair powerup. Also, the emotional overpowering of cyberizing by Danny is blatantly dumb. All cyber victims have loved ones too. Givr him a reason to be exempt from its control. Maybe Missy tinkered with their cyberizing process to make them obedient, and that’s why the Nethersphere makes one consent to the deletion of emotions. And write Danny to be the sole resistor; maybe Clara is able to contact him before he does so, and thus prevent his mind from being corrupted. Also, I think Cyber-Men are being misunderstood as robots. They’re really lobotimized humans in armor. They don’t have programming, so much as emotional areas of the brain nipped away.

        • Novecento says:

          Literally everything you mentioned is explained in the episode. The exception may be “the purpose of Dark Water”, which is clearly implied to be part of the 3W masquerade.

          • Semi-Evil Semi-Genius says:

            Actually, it isn’t. When do the Cyber-Men suddenly get this new pollen power that they’ll never use again? Hoe did Missy conquer the Cyber-Men and make them operate under a remote control she can pass to the Doctor? How does Missy reach all these people at their deaths unnoticed to everyone else around them including the Doctor? Sorry, either not explained properly or not at all.

  7. Namnoot says:

    I think the simplest answer is most likely: the Doctor and Clara visit Kate and Osgood prior to the events of Dark Water. Which would explain why neither really react to seeing the regenerated Doctor, because they already met him. It would create an interesting “fixed moment” dilemma for the Doctor who might be tempted to warn Osgood. A similar scenario likely existed when Eleven got ready to take River out one last time in the “Last Night” minisode.

  8. McJohnson says:

    Call me old fashioned but I think the dead should stay dead.

    • Individual of Doom says:

      Quite right. When you get resurrectted this side of the end times it turns you into Jesus. And there’s only one Jesus.

    • The_Mentiad says:

      Agree. It takes much of the tension out of people dying off in the future when they can always pop back. A bit like a comedy Sontaran… let’s face it, the Sontarans will never be a menace again… you can’t claim that tension back once the precedent has been set.

      • Dr. Moo says:

        The Sontarans have always been comical since the start with The Time Warrior but they were still a genuinely threatening enemy for the Doctor to face, trouble is that things have subsequently gone too far with the comical side and not gone far enough with the “Evil Alien” side of them. We need a writer who will be prepared to take them seriously AND use them well. Generally we have only one of these two things and they suffer as a result. They need to have a rest.

        • The_Mentiad says:

          Yeah probably they always have been in a tongue in cheek kind of subtle way, but as a outwardly “haha” joke, like Strax, not so much. Maybe it is just testament to a lack of subtly in our culture at this moment in history. I personally think the whole “needs a rest” thing (it gets said a bit) means the writing isn’t convincing enough so they need to cycle new whizz-bang bad guys. Like the Vox Blitzer or whatever it was… that was a “look at the cool robot and don’t mind the script” moment if ever there was one. Cool robot though… :p

  9. Semi-Evil Semi-Genius says:

    Yeah, this is becoming quite like comic books. My main issue with comics is that the writers churn out more content than they actually have. They are endlessly producing stories for the same characters, so they inevitably run low on ideas and make dramatic decisions they can’t stick with. Let’s kill the character! Oh, yeah we need the protagonist to keep making stories, so let’s bring the character back to life. And the degradation of the idea that one’s protagonist is unique and important; make hordes of clone characters (alternate versions of superheroes for every gender, sexual orientation, and race, as well as an endless stream of replaceable sidekicks until what the hero does is mundane and boring).

  10. Ranger says:

    I think we’ve lost the point of this article – which is Nick’s clear threat to get Moffatt to bring back Adric. But we must stand strong, comrades, no giving in to threats.

  11. Calli Arcale says:

    “It’s a testament to the chemistry between Arthur Darvill and Karen
    Gillan that they managed to eke sympathy from their audience on each
    occasion, but it was starting to pall by the time the Doctor rebooted
    the universe.”

    Um . . . that was the *first* time Rory got resurrected, though, so how was it beginning to pall?

  12. Calli Arcale says:

    On reflection, I think it seems inevitable that a Zygon is involved in some way, given that a Zygon has already been sighted on location. I suspect no one is being “unkilled”, but either we’ll be seeing her Zygon duplicate, or Missy actually offed a Zygon in “Death in Heaven”.

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